Review by Sanjuro2
"2007 is the Year of the First Person Shooter and Crysis is the Best Shooter of 2007"
I have been a huge fan of the first person shooter genre since the Wolfenstein and Doom days. I remember, as a 13 year old, being impressed by the violence, gore, and overall carnage. Silly, I know. But as far as my young mind was concerned, it was cool to run through little corridors with power ups scattered about, firing shotguns at hellish monsters, and having some bloody fun with a chainsaw. In those days, at that age, you were actually considered "lucky" at school if you were playing Doom because a lot of kids weren't allowed to. Believe me, I remember all too well the kids that would say "Doom sucks!" in a mad rage; a way of venting at their parents and refusing to believe that other kids might be getting to enjoy a game that they could not.
Somehow that makes it rather ironic that, almost 15 years later, the same kind of scenario is playing out with Crysis. Crysis polarizes gamers, but for the most part this is not a result of "you either love it or hate it". This is simply a result of Crysis being a PC exclusive. As such, the majority of mainstream gamers won't get to play Crysis, and many who try on older PCs will be flabbergasted by the ugliness of the game at "Low" settings. "Crysis sucks! The graphics suck!" they will scream in prepubescent anger. But on this day, PC gamers have good reason to let those outbursts fall upon deaf ears.
Because Crysis isn't just about blood and gore, like Doom was. Nor is it about fancy graphics at the expense of everything else. Crysis is the complete package despite the common criticism of, "It brings nothing new to the table. The humor of this comment is the fact that it comes from fans of shooters (Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, etc.) that truly do bring nothing new to the table. I love Call of Duty 4 as much as the next guy, but as great as it is, its gameplay is the same as the original Call of Duty from 2003. Do I care? Of course not because it's still a blast to play. The same goes for Crysis, which actually has more variation in its gameplay than any other shooter released in 2007 aside from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
Still, having said all that, no review of Crysis would be complete without acknowledging the graphics. As of the date of this review, and surely quite some time beyond, these are the best visuals to ever grace a videogame. However, unlike consoles which offer all gamers the same performance without any hassle, it can take some time and effort to get Crysis up and running effectively.
I played Crysis on a PC with Windows Vista 64-bit, an Intel E6850 Core 2 Duo, 4 GB of Super Talent DDR3 RAM, and an NVIDIA 8800 Ultra video card. Even with that kind of hardware, playing at all Very High settings, I wasn't getting the frame rates I wanted at my 22 monitor's native resolution (1680x1050). Additionally, I was also seeing some jaggies in the graphics, like the anti-aliasing wasn't working correctly. I tried lowering the resolution, but playing at a non-native resolution on an LCD monitor is blurry and unacceptable.
So, downstairs I went, and before I knew it my PC was hooked up to a 52 Mitsubishi DLP HDTV. Playing the game at 720p (1280x720), all graphics settings at max, on a DLP was just brillant looking. I can now say from experience that Crysis offers silky smooth framerates on current hardware at high definition resolutions. Additionally, leaving my LCD behind got rid of the jaggies...the game looks absolutely stunning.
Unlike the first CryEngine used in Far Cry, where outdoor environments were huge and impressive while indoor areas suffered by comparison, CryEngine 2 is equally good at rendering both. There is no denying that the wide open areas in Crysis are amazing, with their sandy beaches, superb water (the best in game history, topping even BioShock), lush vegetation (including trees which can be shot down), wildlife (birds, fish, insects, frogs, crabs, turtles), and massive view distances. Yet, the most memorable level in the game could very well be Core, which takes place at zero gravity inside an alien vessel.
There has never been a level like this in a game. The Descent series comes close to this style of gameplay, but Crysis is light years ahead in terms of atmosphere and art direction. The visual effects in this level are second to none, from the use of lighting and steam, to the particles drifting by and various floating objects you can interact with. One could argue that Mario Galaxy has more architecturally complex and ingenious level design throughout (Portal should also get some love here), but as far as single levels go, Core in Crysis is the most original, even awe inspiring, level in a game this year.
Crytek should also be praised for their ability to keep the visuals fresh by constantly throwing something new at players. There are levels set at night and during the day, there are levels in snow and others in rain, there are indoor and outdoor environments, there is the aforementioned zero gravity alien ship and a level on an aircraft carrier. All of this keeps the pacing of the game brisk and exciting.
As for the character models, they are the best in a first person shooter since Half-Life 2 and its episodes. Who would have ever thought Crytek would eventually compete with Valve in this area? From the first moment we see Prophet explaining the mission as Psycho cracks jokes in the opening cutscene, it is clear that character detail was a priority. As for the enemy models, they are top notch as well. The Korean soldiers have quite a visual range and the aliens are excellently designed, both in and out of their machines.
With that, I actually have to stop and commend Crytek for taking the time to make their aliens different. Many shooters (too damn many) feature aliens as primary villains, but that only becomes a problem when the aliens themselves are generic and boring. I'm referring to the countless games that feature standard, bipedal, humanoid creatures that are supposed to be aliens from outer space (Unreal, Quake, Area 51, Halo, Resistance, Prey, etc.). Why such a lack of creativity? Why do so many games feature barely alien aliens? Crytek doesn't. The aliens here seem almost aquatic. Zero gravity is disorienting for the player, but the aliens swim through the environment gracefully and with fearsome speed. This is their home. The alien machines are also impressively agile and very different from earthly technology, though there is no denying their resemblance to the flying machines in The Matrix.
What we have here is, quite simply, the most beautiful game ever made. As with any game that holds that title, another will eventually come along to dethrone it. But in the case of Crysis. I don't see that day coming any time soon (not even Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2 looks to top it from what I've seen), especially since the game has been designed to scale ahead several years. It's hard to believe, but Crysis will look better a year from now than it does today, if Crytek is to be trusted.
As far as presentation goes, the graphics of Crysis are just a single element, and they would lose about half of their effect without the well done sound effects and music. In the process of making a video of the zero gravity level, there were times when I had the sound turned off. As a result, one of the best parts of the game became far less impressive. When the sound is on during this level you hear ambient music, subtle sounds in the environment, as well as aliens communicating in a way that brings dolphins to mind.
High quality sound is everywhere in this game. From the extremely powerful grenade explosions and assault rifle bursts, to the realistic underwater audible effects and the sounds of trees crashing into the landscape after being severed. The voice acting is also fine, though it can be, at times, the weakest part of the sound. The North Koreans scream some pretty cheesy stuff in English, but the game feels more realistic when they speak in their native tongue anyhow. It's rather annoying that they only speak Korean if you play on the Delta difficulty mode, but there are ways to make them speak Korean in any difficulty level if you simply alter a certain file.
Lastly, the music from composer Inon Zur is quite good, and does more than its fair share to compliment the visuals and enhance the experience. For the most part, the music is done in the epic film score style of the Call of Duty or Halo series and it overachieves in this respect. I love the way Asian instruments are cleverly weaved into the very Western scoring style. I thoroughly enjoyed Inon Zur's work here, and I would rather listen to the CD soundtrack of this score than those of most other shooters.
I give the game high marks for the story not because it could compete with an art film or Shakespeare, but because, for what it is, the story is quite solid and fun. This is the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, and as such, the plot really fits the game and gives the player enough reason to keep moving forward (aside from the fun factor itself).
It begins in the year 2020 with a team of U.S. Delta Forces, decked out in high tech nanosuits, en route to a chain of islands in the Philippine Sea. Archaeologists working there had made a discovery in the mines that drew the interest of the North Koreans, who immediately moved military forces into the area and locked down the island. The Delta Forces have been tasked with recovering the archaeologists who have been taken hostage.
The player takes control of Jake Dunn, codenamed Nomad, one of the Delta Force operators who takes part in this locate and evacuate mission. However, along the way, full scale war erupts between the U.S. and North Korea with Nomad joining the invasion force in a splendid level called Assault. Eventually, the stakes are raised even higher when the the truth about the archaeologists discovery is revealed to be an alien vessel in the mountains...
Like I said, it's not high art, but Crytek's execution of this popcorn movie plot is quite good. There are plenty of fantastic set pieces (all of which feel less scripted than those in the Call of Duty series), and cutscenes that always seem to appear right when they are welcome. The pacing is also top notch, with rarely a lull in the excitement. Plus, if you ask me, Crytek keeps ratcheting up the thrills to the very end. The stakes continue to rise with each passing chapter, and the fun follows suit. This is in stark contrast to a game like Halo 3, where the early chapters are decent, and then the game devolves into a completely boring mess for the last few levels.
Obviously, this is the most important part of any game, first person shooters included. Therefore, it is great news that Crysis delivers superb gameplay in spades. To get a pretty good idea of what to expect, simply take the best attributes of other good first person shooters and add huge, non-linear levels to explore, the customization provided by the nanosuit, and weapon modification options.
The first item is pretty self explanatory; the game is filled with magnificent environments that offer numerous ways to approach situations and objectives. You can steal a boat and get around by sea, hop into a jeep or pickup truck and hit the gas, make a stealth approach on foot through forests or mountains, find a nice perch and snipe the enemies in the valley below, cause a distraction to help you slip through an enemy patrol, fire a rocket from a distant hill to destroy an AA gun instead of infiltrating the base to disable it, or just mix it up in combat against far greater numbers. The options available, due to the well designed levels alone, are extensive.
When the nanosuit is added to the mix, things get even more interesting. Each ability the suit offers makes itself useful numerous times over the course of the adventure. Frankly, the only reason Nomad isn't invincible is because the suit has a limited amount of energy that recharges over time. The armor mode makes Nomad more durable as every enemy attack drains only suit power until it is spent. Speed mode allows Nomad to move at a much faster pace, with no cost to suit energy unless he sprints. Strength mode has several nice effects, including better aim stabilization, the ability to leap much higher, the ability to throw objects and enemies with great force over large distances, and strong punches that can destroy objects in Nomad's path (all at the expense of suit energy). Lastly there is cloak mode, which makes Nomad quite hard to spot and drains suit power slowly when standing still, but rapidly when in motion.
As I stated, each of these abilities is useful. Armor is constantly a big help in combat, obviously. I used Strength quite often to leap onto high ledges, roofs of homes, over fences, etc. I also used it to melee in several situations, and throw enemies into their own allies, not to mention the times it helped me aim better. Speed mode comes in handy for quick escapes and is priceless in its ability to allow the levels to be traversed faster. Cloak is also extremely useful for sneaking around and getting the jump on the enemy, though it is more lasting and effective when waiting in one place.
The weapon modifications are also very helpful, and a lot of fun. Being able add the scope of your choice to a gun can make it useful in several situations where it might otherwise be useless. Your choices, once you find them all, include the regular iron sight, a reflex sight, an assault scope, or a sniper scope. In the case of the FY71 assault rifle, you can choose between regular ammunition and incendiary rounds, and you can add a grenade launcher attachment to any assault rifle. You can also switch to tactical ammunition (sleep darts) with various weapons if you choose, and laser pointer and flashlight modules are also available. Lastly, you can equip silencers for quiet takedowns, but the drawback is that they weaken bullet damage.
Adding to your wide range of choices is the ability to change firing modes. With an assault rifle you can use full auto or single shot, which combined with the right scope can effectively turn them into decent medium range sniper rifles. Other stuff is pretty standard first person military shooter stuff, like night vision, plastic explosives, and three kinds of grenades (fragmentation, smoke, and flashbang). I can't forget to mention the binoculars either, which have three levels of zoom and allow you to tag enemies, making them show up on your radar from that point forward until disposed of.
The weapons themselves are a solid, varied bunch. You've got your pistols (which can be dual wielded), two flavors of assault rifle, a pretty awesome submachine gun, a powerful shotgun, a sniper rifle, a killer minigun, the Gauss Rifle (extremely strong and accurate over great distances), missile launchers, and the Molecular Accelerator (an alien weapon that fires sharp ice shards). There is also the TAC Launcher, but it's not really worth mentioning since it is only used once in the game. At any rate, all of these weapons are enjoyable to use and perform just as one would expect.
For most of the game your primary foes are KPA soldiers (Korean People's Army), and fighting them is a blast. The A.I. deserves a lot of the credit for this, though as is the case with all sandbox style shooters, it is imperfect. There will be occasions where the A.I. might do something a little questionable, but for the most part it is effective. These guys will hunt you down, flank you, move in groups, flush you out of your hiding place with grenades, run like hell from your grenades, quickly get out of burning vehicles, and so forth. If you are spotted by a small enemy patrol, they will even fire off flares to signal for help, at which time a tactical vehicle usually drives up and starts hosing down the area. Deciding how to deal with these enemies is thoroughly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, on the Delta difficulty, there are almost too many KPA soldiers and you can't really take them on in the open because they'll kill you quickly, not just because your suit and health deplete faster, but because you have to completely rely on the gun sights as there is no crosshair. On Delta, I found myself running around hiding more than fighting, and my enjoyment suffered as a result. I had much more fun with Crysis on my Hard playthrough because it offered a nice mix of challenge, stealth, and gunplay.
There will also be times when you have to deal with boats, manned by a driver and a highly accurate gunner, as well as helicopters, which can be quite a nuisance unless you take them out with a missile launcher. Later you will also have to deal with aliens and their machines, and I loved this section of the game because it was a nice change of pace. I adamantly disagree with anyone who believes this part of the game is another Crytek mistake, like the Trigen in Far Cry. On the contrary, these aliens are fun to fight by various means, and must be approached in a much different manner than the KPA.
These levels of the game only consist of about one fourth of the playtime, but despite the more linear nature of the game at this point it is consistently exciting. In the Ascension level, when I realized I was actually piloting a VTOL and freakin' dogfighting with alien machines in midair to protect a convoy in the valley below...awesome was the only word that came to mind. I recommend the Xbox 360 controller for this part though as it makes it far easier to zip around, roll, and fire off bullets and missiles effectively (mouse and keyboard is better for everything else in the game, however).
Other vehicles include tanks, jeeps, trucks, and boats, which can be added to your strategies of approach. The jeeps and boats have quite a bit of firepower onboard thanks to their mounted turrets, and the level Onslaught successfully creates the feel of a real warzone designed around tank combat. I should also note that the physics in this game are, in every respect, the best since Half-Life 2.
With so many elements coming together under the hood of one shooter, it really is impressive that they blend so well. In summary, Crysis offers big non-linear levels for three quarters, Call of Duty-esque linear levels for the last quarter, customization via the nanosuit, great weapons that allow modification, player controlled vehicles (land, sea, and air), solid A.I., terrific physics, and an exciting story. I would say that Crytek threw in everything but the kitchen sink, but as others have stated, there is even a kitchen sink in this game!
The multiplayer aspect of the game consists of two modes: Instant Action and Power Struggle. Instant Action is, like Halo's Slayer, just another name for Deathmatch. Personally, I'm not a big deathmatch fan anymore because I've been playing that mode for many years. Crysis is no exception to the rule, even though you can employ the nanosuit powers. Cloaking isn't very useful in multiplayer, and frankly, unless you're one of the people who runs around the map with Maximum Strength trying to one punch kill people, you will likely find that Armor mode is by far the most useful.
The real strength of Crysis multiplayer is in the Power Struggle mode. As many others have said before me, this is like a combination of the large environments and infantry/vehicle combat of Battlefield 2 combined with the economy system of Counterstrike. However, Power Struggle has a much bigger learning curve before its quality begins to show. Earlier this year it took me about three or four hours of playtime to really give Enemy Territory: Quake Wars a chance, and now it is my favorite multiplayer shooter of 2007. The delay in my appreciation was due to the learning curve, but Power Struggle probably takes even longer to get the hang of.
With support for up to 32 players, 16 to a team, you begin the game by choosing to play on the U.S. or North Korean side. Both teams have a headquarters on the map, and the goal is simple: destroy the enemy headquarters. However, achieving that result isn't as easy as it sounds. The headquarters are so extremely well defended by turrets that there are only three options powerful enough to destroy them: the Singularity Tank, the TAC Tank, or the TAC Launcher. The quest to achieve this power is the struggle.
Your team must begin pushing forward on the map, capturing factories (via the Battlefield-esque flag system) that allow the production of weapons, ground vehicles, and air support vehicles (which can be purchased with Prestige Points). Your team must also capture forward bunkers, where you can spawn from that point on, unless the bunker is lost. These bunkers also provide a place where you can spend your Prestige Points on weapons and accessories. For instance, you can buy the weapon of your choice, the ammo for it, scopes for it, grenades, mines, etc. The Prestige Points you spend to purchase these things are gained by killing enemies and capturing the various objectives on the map.
However, for the most part, all of these are just methods of increasing your team's power and remaining competitive with the opposing team. The real objective is the Prototype Laboratory. When you gain control of the lab, you can start capturing alien crash sites to power it up. Only then can you attain the advanced weaponry required to damage the enemy base. It all adds up to a lengthy, strategic match often consisting of a back and forth push, quick shifts from offense to defense, and so forth. It's well worth the effort to learn.
Now, despite all that, I'm not saying Power Struggle is as good as Quake Wars, but then again, Quake Wars is a retail game that is entirely based around multiplayer. However, as a multiplayer component for a single player FPS, Power Struggle can certainly compete with the likes of Call of Duty 4, Team Fortress 2, or Halo 3. However, those other games I mentioned are easier to pick right up and play, with their relatively simple modes and objectives. Like I said, due to the higher learning curve, it is easier to dismiss Power Struggle before giving it a proper chance, even though it is actually a lot of fun.
Simply put, this is the best first person shooter of the year and a Game of the Year candidate. That is really saying something when you consider that this is also the year of The Orange Box, BioShock, Call of Duty 4, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Halo 3, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. I have played all of those games and completed the single player modes on each that has one. With the exception of Halo 3, I enjoyed all of them a great deal (and I suppose I even liked Halo 3 for about 150 multiplayer matches, after which I was bored). Still, as much as I liked the others, I believe Crysis stands as the best FPS of the year. I am anxiously looking forward to the sequel.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/07
Game Release: Crysis (US, 11/13/07)
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